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The Creature from the Black, Black Lagoon at Off the Wall Theatre

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Over the years, Dale Gutzman at Off the Wall Theatre has offered us many thoughtful original plays that sensitively explore and expose our society and humanity with great subtlety and depth. This show is not one of them—nor is it intended to be.

As you might guess from the title, The Creature from the Black, Black Lagoon harkens back to the tropes and style of the silver screen. Literally a travesty, in the dictionary sense of “a literary or artistic burlesque of a serious work or subject, characterized by grotesque or ludicrous incongruity,” this affectionate, campy spoof reproduces all too well the limping narrative, cheesy conflicts, and wooden acting of the old Universal pictures, with many a knowing wink and plenty of of risque humor.

This definitely has its pleasures. IF YOU ARE EVEN THINKING ABOUT SEEING THE SHOW, DON’T READ THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH. For the rest of the world: you must know that, in the show’s evident “money shot,” drag performer Mark Hagen, clad in a tasteful black taffeta dress and glittering diamond necklace as “assistant marine biologist” Kay Laverne, stands on the deck of a rundown research ship on an Amazon expedition to investigate a curious half-human/half-ichthyoid fossil. It’s Christmas eve (because, why not?), and the homesick Kay sings the sentimental favorite “White Christmas.” At the end of the first verse, the famous gill-man pops his head out of the “river,” —wearing the Santa hat that was thrown overboard by an irate team member in the previous scene—and, besmitten with the lovely Kay, delivers the second verse in a wordless gurgle reminiscent of a lovesick sea-lion.

See what they did? It’s virtually Dada performance, quite in the spirit of Charles Busch’s immortal Vampire Lesbians of Sodom. It’s nine different kinds of wacky, transgressing the holidays, romance, old movies, hetero-normativity, cross-species love, musical theater, narrative coherence, and the laws of probability, not to mention good taste. Our disbelief is not so much suspended here as trussed up in a gimp suit. And there’s many more such moments, such as when Jeremy Welter, as the myopic scientist, having lost his glasses while under the influence of a powerful native aphrodisiac, tries to kiss Kay, but instead comes face to face with the creature and asks, sniffing, “Honey, did you have the sushi?”

Hagen gives a reliably committed performance; whether going down on a peeled banana or fending off sexual assaults from Larry Lukasavage as the grimy captain, he’s the ultimate lady—or the idea of a lady—with a costume change for every scene. Welter, completely unrecognizable behind a pair of thick black glasses, sparks particularly well in his comic moments with Hagen, as usual; Alicia Rice, as a stock Hollywood “native girl” in leopard print tights and rhinestones, slinks around the stage like a jungle cat and does a fetching ritual dance; Jeff Anderson plays against type as a sleazy millionaire, bringing a Donald O’Connor-ish freshness to his musical numbers. And, as is his wont, Gutzman interjects himself into the show, performing expressive vocal sound effects like “plooch” and “arghm arghm arghm arghm ” from an offstage microphone, and later, leading a sing-along. Gutzman creates a conspiratorial mood: we’re all in on the joke, and the crowd, many of who have been coming to “Dale’s holiday shows” for over a decade, are happy to collude. It’s like a family charade, or a very good office party skit, with all the regulars doing their schtick plus a few new faces.

Anyone feeling oppressed by the weight of winter and/or the militant family values of the Christian/capitalist holiday can well find an antidote in this trifle of hot, wet, tropical nonsense. But if you were just dying for a native tribal version of “Sleigh Ride”—well, there’s always next year.

The Creature from the Black, Black Lagoon
by Dale Gutzman

December 26,27,28, and 29, 7:30
Tickets $25
A New Year’s Eve show includes “champagne punch, and a sumptuous snack buffet” $30.00
Off the Wall Theatre
(414) 484-8874 or www.offthewalltheatre.com

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